How exactly we stumbled upon The Balcão, I do not recall. Perhaps it was the minimal logo that caught our eye or a well framed architectural photo standing out from the crowd on our screen. Whatever it was, there was a clear attention to detail that sparked our intrigue as we scrolled through for more and eventually led to our discovery of an interesting blog & online magazine. A well curated space full of insightful thoughts, musings and research in the field of architecture from Goa & beyond.
Curious as we are, we decided to get in touch with The Balcão creator & Goan architect, Lester Silveira, to learn more about the platform. Here's what he had to say...
When did it begin & what inspired you to start writing?
I started The Balcão in August 2017 as an online platform to showcase my thoughts, research and writings in the field of architecture. I had just returned to Goa, fresh from my 1-year architecture internship in Bombay, full of ideas and inspiration. I’ve always been very passionate about architecture and I felt I needed a creative outlet to express myself.
So I started this blog as my own personal platform where I could share my views with the world. It actually serves a dual purpose - on one hand, my audience gets educated, but it also helps me formulate my thoughts and put things in perspective allowing me to grow as a professional. Also, this was my way of staking a claim for myself on the internet going further into a digital era.
Window at São Tomé, Panjim
What kind of topics / articles will readers find here?
I write mostly about old buildings, mainly the built heritage of Goa. But other topics include the life of an architect, the latest happenings in the field, or the works of famous architects.
The model I follow for my website consists of mainly three kinds of posts - blog posts that are like diary notes, essays which are more serious pieces of writing - and the third is an online magazine - a collection of writings and graphics concentrated on a central theme.
Suggested read: 'Modern Heritage' & 'Why the Kala Academy is so important'
I always say that though my content is solely focused on Goa,it is not entirely limited to it. It definitely has its roots here, but it also transcends these boundaries.
Groin Vault, St Anthony Chapel, Old Goa (details in above photo) & Issue 01 'Remember Charles'
How has the platform evolved since its inception & where do you hope to take it in the coming years?
To be honest, it’s tough blogging when you have a full time job. I write mostly on the weekends, or in my free time, and so the website has developed at a slow pace since its inception.
However, I have noticed that so far the blog is, in its own way, creating more awareness about our heritage, and the need to preserve it. If at the end of this, I have been able to help influence people to preserve even a handful of these structures, I would consider myself successful.
Suggested read: 'Why do we conserve'
Ultimately, I hope to make this a full-time venture. I hope to build The Balcão as a personal brand that has a solid reputation for delivering great content on architecture - Goa and beyond. I’m the most anxious about my online magazine feature, I hope to be more consistent with that and make it like a high quality quarterly publication, something on the lines of a bookazine.
If all goes well, it can hopefully become profitable for me and I can retire early (haha)
Views from Issue 01 'Remembering Charles'
What got you interested in architecture to begin with & where did you study?
I was born and brought up in Bahrain, and went to school there. My time in Goa was limited to the annual summer vacations. As a child, I was blessed with the opportunity of being exposed to two such culturally rich places. Bahrain was an ancient trading port, like Goa, but a lot older. Visiting old sites like the Souq in Manama,the Bahrain Fort and the Al-Khamis Mosque left a deep impression on me. I guess somewhere along the way, this appreciation and interest in buildings just grew within me.
Being part of the Goan diaspora and the limited time I got to spend in Goa just made me treasure my homeland even more. I would look forward to visiting it every year - in the rains - attending mass at Old Goa, riding through Ribandar, walking around in Panjim. I didn’t understand it fully at the time, but the seeds of an architectural appreciation of Goa were planted in those little moments.
So I pursued Architecture in Manipal, at the Manipal School of Architecture and Planning. As part of the 5 year course, it was compulsory to undergo 1 year of training under an architect. I had done mine in Bombay under the foremost conservation architect in the country, Vikas Dilawari. My time in college as well as in training further helped shape my interest in heritage and architectural conservation.
Balcão steps of Casa dos Colaços
In your opinion, what are the most interesting buildings, structures or spaces in Goa?
Old Goa fascinates me the most. There is an old saying ‘Quem viu Goa, excusa de ver Lisboa’ meaning ‘He who has seen Goa need not see Lisbon’.
When we talk of Old Goa, most people think of these two churches opposite each other and this huge empty space between. Where did all the houses and other buildings go? In this case, its very absence makes us appreciate it much more. It is the ‘unknown’ that fascinates me, because it leaves me to imagine the scale and grandeur of the city that the travellers of yore spoke of.
And whatever has survived the passage of time - is truly magnificent. The old churches and sites of ruins hold a lot of clues to the evolution of architecture in Goa.
Suggested read: 'Bom Jesus Basilica : Should it be plastered or not?'
I feel people rarely scratch beyond the surface with Old Goa - and this is proved with the amount of unloved heritage structures that are present - take the Arch of Conception for example.
Casa dos Colaços & Akhada Chapel, Goa
Are you working on any interesting jobs / projects at the moment?
I’m constantly writing something and contemplating future blog posts in my mind even at random moments. I’ve got a host of unfinished essays and magazine issues which I work on as and when I get time.
Recently, I’ve entered into a non-profit collaborative effort with two other professionals in the industry called ‘The Goa Collective’, in which we aim to do public betterment projects in Goa.
We are also involved in research and spreading awareness about heritage, such as the Church and Convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Chimbel which is in urgent need of preservation.
Suggested read: 'The Architectural Splendour of the Chimbel Monastery'
Archiepiscopal Palace, Old Goa
Beyond your own blog & Instagram feed, who are the interesting architects, firms or platforms in Goa you would recommend people to check out?
Other good accounts to follow on Instagram are Field Atelier (@field_atelier), Raya Shankwalker Architects (@rayashankhwalkerarchitects) and Devika Martins (@devikamartins).
Having a presence online in this day and age is essential, offering firms/individuals the ability to establish their brand and reach a wider audience. Worldwide, more architects are taking to social media, showcasing their projects, blogging about ongoing projects, or sharing ‘studio notes’.
Those who don’t leverage it run the risk of getting left behind in a fast changing industry.
The story behind the name...
For those who are not aware, the Balcão is an architectural feature that is central to Goa’s unique identity. It can be defined as an extended porch with seats built into the side and reached by a series of steps. The Balcão is where it all happens - interaction with passers by, daily gossip and random conversation.
I wanted to name my website after this amazing feature, because in many ways, they are similar. If you imagine the whole state of Goa as one large house, the website acts as a device that connects it to the outer world in the digital realm. Here, the entire globe can read, learn and engage in conversations about Goan architecture and culture, making it an e-balcão of sorts. It’s a new interpretation of the good ol ‘bolkanv’ in the digital era.
The Balcão by Lester Silveira
Thoughts, musings and research in the field of architecture - Goa and beyond